Big Wins in Montgomery Debtors’ Prison Case
Plaintiffs challenging debtors’ prison practices of the City of Montgomery and Judicial Correction Services (JCS), a private contractor that extracted payment of traffic fines and fees on behalf of the City, scored important wins in a July 7 decision from the Federal District Court for the Middle District of Alabama.
At issue is the widespread practice in Alabama, and other states, of disproportionately targeting low-income people for minor traffic offenses, assessing fines, including the automatic fines levied against those who exercise their rights to challenge the tickets and then, ultimately, imprisoning those who are unable to pay. This practice is typically executed without regard for the constitutionally-guaranteed right of the court determining if the person ticketed and fined has the means to pay the fines.
Plaintiffs in the case, McCullough v. City of Montgomery, include Angela McCullough and Marquita Johnson, whose experiences with former Municipal Judge Les Hayes were recently featured in the first installment of a Reuters investigative series on judicial misconduct.
U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth ruled that significant portions of the Plaintiffs’ lawsuits can proceed to trial on claims for damages for violations of federal constitutional due process, equal protection rights and state tort law prohibiting false imprisonment and abuse of process. The rulings will allow the Plaintiffs to proceed with motions for class action certification, so that others aggrieved by these practices may join the litigation. NCLEJ represents the plaintiffs with our co-counsel Hank Sanders and Faya Toure of Chesnut Sanders & Sanders, LLC, Martha Morgan, and Dentons.